An important message from Pops Worstall


Did I ever tell you that Pops Worstall was in the Royal Navy?

Firstly you must always implicitly obey orders, without attempting to form any opinion of your own regarding their propriety. Secondly, you must consider every man your enemy who speaks ill of your king; and thirdly you must hate a Frenchman as you hate the devil.

Do note, implicitly, not explicitly. The point of the orders, not the orders themselves. What made Britain Great that.

Plus the hating Frenchmen, of course.

10 thoughts on “An important message from Pops Worstall”

  1. You’d be in very good company in New Zealand this weekend.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say we hate the French – but oh how we’re hoping they lose tomorrow’s rugby match.

  2. Tomorrow? I know I have had a little snooze after coming home from a proper Trafalgar Lunch, something about drinking rum with the serving seaman next to me is recalled, but please tell me I haven’t missed a day.

  3. Yes, blindly following orders always leads to greatness. The reason Britain is now a world-beating success is our lionisation of men who blindly charged into the valley of death, despite the obvious stupidity of the orders, not to mention our deification of failures like Scott, the one who got killed trying to walk to the South Pole with nothing but biscuits and cocoa for sustenance.

    Who needs original thinking, and common sense, when we’ve such fabulous role models to guide us? Made us what we are today, it surely did.

  4. “Tomorrow?” It was Saturday morning in NZ when I left that comment.

    We’re 13 hours ahead of you and will be watching kick-off at 9:00 on Sunday evening.

  5. This is an alternate meaning of implicit that has nothing to do with explicit, implied, subtext or intention vs letter of the law, etc: in this case it is “resting on the authority of another without doubt or inquiry”, OED.

  6. So Much For Subtlety

    Ian B – “Yes, blindly following orders always leads to greatness.”

    I think you have that exactly backwards. Charging into the cannon down the Valley of Death is a great example of following orders explicitly. I am not sure I agree with Our Host about his interpretation of what that “implicitly” means, but I assume he is trying to say that it is a British version of the German “Auftragstaktik” which means that the German Army did not give detailed orders. They simply told their subordinates what the general idea was and left the means up to them. From the 1936 German Army Handbook (sorry but I happen to have my new copy of Martin Van Creveld’s really excellent “Fighting Power” near by):

    37…. Once a decision has been made it is not to be altered unless for really important reasons. Given the fluctuating circumstances of war, however, inflexible adherence to a decision once made may lead to errors. The art of leadership consists of a timely recognition of the circumstances and moment demanding a new decision.
    To the extent that his purpose is not endangered thereby a commander must leave freedom of action to his subordinate commanders.

    76 Above all, orders are to avoid going into detail when changes in the situation cannot be excluded by the time they are carried out. …. In such cases the overall objective gains overriding importance; an order should accordingly lay special emphasis on the purpose at hand. Guiding lines for the imminent warlike actions are to be laid down, the method of execution is to be left out. In this way an order turns into a directive.”

    The British Empire was made great by people who interpreted their orders in interesting ways. Oh, and fighting the French. It was ruined once the telegraph allowed London to take charge. And we allied against Germany.

  7. So Much For Subtlety

    TomJ – “That said, the modern British military puts great store in Mission Command, a concept derived from Auftragstaktik.”

    Yes but they don’t mean it. Number Ten keeps a very close eye on everything that soldiers do. As in the post-Vietnam Mayaguez incident where President Carter was on the phone to the local American commander during the fighting.

    Every single British soldier now knows that they not only have to obey, down to the letter, the orders given to them by their commanders, but they have to obey a second set of unwritten rules dictated from London, with a third set of lawyers and coroners standing behind those ready to prosecute with vindictive zeal. Worse, they know if they act in any way on their own, or even if they follow orders but trip some unseen political nerve, not a single one of their commanders, all the way up to Number Ten, will stand by them and defend what they did.

    Thus the Iranians can bitch slap the Royal Navy and they don’t dare to lift a finger in their own defence.

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